In a land where every dinner is a TV dinner and people watch remotely, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” will mollify the packs of Nielsens swooping down on America’s megaplexes.
But the first movie to christen the blockbuster season is a long 107 minutes of nothing special. With an estimated $150 million budget, the producers have concocted to make a quite unspectacular popcorn flick. When a film is endowed with such a massive expenditure as “Origins: Wolverine” one wonders where the money went when compared to the sardonic rush of “Iron Man” or the fully-realized macrocosm of “The Dark Knight,” because it’s an uninspired project void of the magic of those franchise foundries. Perhaps when you’ve dropped this magnitude of an exorbitant investment into a tepid film, producers are forced to tack on an ambiguous and presumptuous conclusion suggesting a wholly underserved sequel.
Essentially a prologue to the X-Men films, “Origins: Wolverine” begins with the backstory of the Logan/Wolverine character and his brother, Victor Creed/Sabretooth, as children in the 1840s Antebellum South. They bound through successive U.S. wars as indestructible soldiers during the mundane opening credits until they are recruited into a post-Vietnam War commando unit. Adopting distinct military tactics, the brothers become estranged, each hunting the other until the inevitable last reel.
Filmed unconvincingly by director Gavin Hood, it’s an untextured effort with no discernible cohesive tone or pace. Action sequences are neutered by the special effects. The over reliance in post-production fiddling means that real thrills and genuine tension are jettisoned for clunky, newfangled visuals.
The lame script by David Benioff and Skip Woods is equally lackadaisical but there are moments when it’s just plain infantile. As he stalks his lumberjack younger brother in the Canadian Rockies, Victor scrawls with his fingernails into the wooden bar of a dark, unpopulated tavern in the middle of nowhere that for no apparent reason is the size of a jumbo jet hanger. The quizzical bartender asks Victor, “You’re not from around here?” Moments later, when Logan enters the bar, Victor peers over his left shoulder and drawls, “Look what the cat dragged in.” As the brothers race towards each other in the cavernous watering hole and begin to engage in battle, the barkeep peeps up with “Guys, take it outside.”
Burdened by the soporific screenplay, the game cast plows through. Bravely sporting mutton chops throughout history, Liev Schreiber lends Victor hubris with a perverse glint. Danny Huston, looking like a short back and sides Anthony Bourdain after a summer of prix fixe dinners, adds a trenchant interpretation to the commando unit chief, William Stryker, but like his co-stars is encumbered with dopey dialogue. Ryan Reynolds enhances his reputation as a funny fellow with a smart-alec turn as commando Wade Wilson, yet when he returns later in the film as Deadpool, a mutated government project, he is muted with bandages and stitches. (The film hints at the mutant’s irony; just maybe not the one the makers intended.)
Brooding, with trapezius muscles inflating with every swipe of his rapier hands, Hugh Jackman certainly put the requisite hours in the gym. But the character is written so rudimentarily that there’s no connection to his tortured plight. In several instances, Logan expresses himself with a vengeful cry to the heavens as the camera bids a clichéd retreat into the clouds. But at the very least the perpetually tank topped and frequently shirtless Jackman could bring hairy back into vogue. While his charm and charisma are rarely utilized to their best in this film, he has the affable hunkiness to play a part like Thomas Magnum. You can envision a mustached Jackman beaming behind the wheel of a Ferrari. (May I suggest William H. Macy as Higgins.) Again, a big screen presence for small screen tastes.